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Briefly

- - Sunday, July 25, 2010

EUROPEAN UNION

EU to hammer Iran with oil sanctions

BRUSSELS | The European Union will hit Iran with tough sanctions against its vital oil and gas industry on Monday in a bid to lure Tehran back to the negotiating table over its disputed nuclear program.

EU foreign ministers will formally approve the sanctions following Iran's repeated refusals to halt sensitive nuclear activities, which the West fears are aimed at building a bomb.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the EU against imposing unilateral sanctions, saying Tehran would react swiftly and cause "remorse."

"I should tell you that anyone who adopts a measure against the Iranian nation, such as inspection of our ships and planes, should know that Iran will react swiftly," Mr. Ahmadinejad said in remarks directed at the EU, which were translated into English by the Press TV channel.

The U.N. Security Council imposed a fourth set of sanctions on Tehran in early June, but EU leaders and the United States decided shortly after to impose their own penalties against the Iranian energy sector.

The sanctions are part of a twin-track approach with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton seeking to revive moribund talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Western powers have demanded that Iran suspend its uranium-enrichment program, fearing that Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its atomic program is a peaceful drive to produce energy.

The new EU sanctions include a ban on the sale of equipment, technology and services to Iran's energy sector, hitting activities in refining, liquefied natural gas, exploration and production, diplomats said.

The EU will ban dual-use goods that can be used for conventional weapons. It also will step up vigilance of the activities of Iranian-connected banks operating in the EU and bar them from setting up branches.

BRITAIN

Reports: BP CEO negotiating exit terms

LONDON | BP chief executive Tony Hayward is negotiating the terms of his departure ahead of the oil company's results announcement, British media said Sunday. BP said Mr. Hayward retained the confidence of the board and management.

Citing unidentified sources, the BBC and the Sunday Telegraph said detailed talks regarding Mr. Hayward's future had taken place over the weekend. The BBC said a formal announcement on Mr. Hayward's exit is expected in the next 24 hours; the Telegraph said it would be made in the next 48 hours.

The Sunday Times reported directors are "considering a plan under which [Mr. Hayward] would leave as soon as the ruptured well is sealed."

Mr. Hayward, 53, has come under heavy criticism for his leadership after the April 20 fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. He repeatedly has apologized and expressed sorrow for the oil leak, but in May, he shocked some U.S. residents when he said "I'd like my life back," and weeks later went yachting.

BP is due to release its second quarter results on Tuesday, and the board of directors is scheduled to meet before the earnings announcement.

GERMANY

Six foreigners among Love Parade dead

DUISBURG | Six foreigners were among the 19 victims of the stampede at Germany's Love Parade techno music festival, a police spokesman said Sunday.

The dead included an Australian woman, an Italian woman, a Dutch man, a Chinese woman and two people from Spain. Police previously had said a Chinese man was among the dead.

The 19 victims were aged between 20 and 40, authorities said.

Police have said that 16 people died at the scene of the disaster, at the entrance to a sole tunnel leading to the festival grounds, but that no one died in the tunnel itself.

RUSSIA

Police kill two power-plant attackers

MOSCOW | Russian police on Sunday killed two men accused of bombing a North Caucasus hydroelectric plant, media reported, just days after President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to sack security officials if there were another attack.

Six masked men, suspected Islamist militants, stormed the Baksanskaya power plant in Kabardino-Balkaria on Wednesday, fatally shot two guards and set off remote-controlled bombs beside the main generator units, bringing the station to a halt.

Analysts said the attack could signal a change of tactics by rebels in the North Caucasus trying to expand an Islamist insurgency along Russia's southern flank and focus on economic targets — a threat they have long made public.

Mr. Medvedev threatened on Thursday to sack top security officials if they failed to prevent new attacks on strategic assets in the region. No one took responsibility for the bombing.

Russian news agencies quoted a police spokesman as saying the armed men were killed in a shootout during an attempt to detain them as they drove away in a car.

"The rebels had taken part in a number of serious crimes … including the attack on the Baksanskaya power plant on July 21," the agencies quoted the spokesman as saying.

The Kremlin is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars since the mid-1990s, and in Dagestan and Ingushetia, where poverty and official abuse of force push some youths right into the hands of the rebels.

FRANCE

Nuns seek chart run after record deal

PARIS | Benedictine nuns from a secluded convent in southern France have had their prayers answered after beating 70 other religious orders to a deal with Universal Music and aim to create a chart-topping album.

"We never sought this, it came looking for us," said the Rev. Mother Abbess at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation near Avignon. "At first, we were worried it would affect our cloistered life, so we asked St. Joseph in prayer. Our prayers were answered."

The nuns, whose album of Gregorian chants is set to be released in November, belong to an order that dates back to the sixth century.

The sisters are not allowed to leave the convent or receive guests, and only communicate with visitors through a grill. "I passed the contract through the grill, they signed it and passed it back," said Dickon Stainer, chief of Decca Records, a unit of Universal, in a statement.

To keep their privacy the sisters also will film their own television ad and photograph the album cover.

The nuns, who beat convents from North America and Africa, join a label that includes the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones and convent-educated chart topper Lady Gaga.

The abbess said the nuns decided to record the album hoping it would touch people's lives.

From wire dispatches and staff reports